Oct 13, 2019

Time for Holistic Wellbeing

A few days back, I had posted a picture of my lunch plate on Instagram, where there was some A2B ribbon pakoda (deep-fried snack) along with veggies, sambhar and rice. There were a few DMs asking why I'm eating A2B snacks since they are made with palmolein oil.

Earlier this week, I had shared that I use pressure cookers extensively and that I don't see any issues in using them. There were a few responses to that Insta story saying that pressure cooking is unhealthy and one should cook the rice in an open pot and drain the starch.

There has been quite an increase in the awareness/interest levels (confusion too) on healthy eating and a continuous search towards finding healthy foods and healthier ways of cooking. Sometimes, I wonder if we have reached a point where we have become obsessed about eating healthy.

My belief is this - "If I eat healthy 80-90% of the time, I'm okay with it. I love to travel, go out to restaurants once a week, relish on bhel puri, kesari bhaath and rasmalai 1-2 times a month. I don't want to give up on all these, just so that I hit the 100% mark".

Several factors contribute to good health and overall well being. In the past few years, food seemed to have hijacked our complete attention. Yes, food plays an important role but isn't the ONLY contributing factor.

In my opinion, these are the OTHER factors that I want to give enough importance, along with food.
  • Exercise
  • Physical activity throughout the day
  • Exposure to sun
  • Spending time amidst nature and greenery
  • Deep breathing
  • Adequate water intake
  • Good quality sleep
  • No smoking or drinking alcohol
  • Stress-free life
  • Finding meaning and purpose in our work
  • Making time for hobbies/interests/passions
  • Leading a disciplined life and not giving into external distractions (social media, Netflix, TV, video games etc)
  • Positive thoughts
  • How we respond to negative emotions like anger, fear, resentment, jealousy etc
  • Supporting relationships
  • Reduced exposure to air pollution
I'm sure there are more factors that can be added to this list.

My ONLY suggestion through this post is - Let's aim for holistic well being and focus on the other factors too, and not spend all our energies in getting a perfect plate of healthy food every single meal. One cannot lead a healthy and happy life if we are just eating 100% healthy but ignoring the other factors completely.

Oct 11, 2019

Plant based sources of Folic Acid (Folates) for healthy pregnancy

Recently, I was talking to a friend's wife who is a gynecologist. One of the points she told me - "We are seeing quite a number of miscarriages in the past 2-3 years. This percentage has definitely spiked up as compared to what it used to be 10 years back. Earlier, we used to advise women not to smoke or consume alcohol. Given the current eating habits, I should add a big list of items under "not to eat" category for pregnant women......"

This conversation is the trigger point of this new series of blog posts that I plan to write pertaining to pregnancy.
I'll be sharing my understanding of various nutritional needs during pregnancy and how best to meet them through real, natural foods. Will also be writing about the plethora of mother-specific health(?) drinks available in the market these days. If there are any other topics/questions you want me to address, please do comment below.

The first topic I'm focusing today is on folic acid. When you are planning to conceive, the first thing your gynec would put you on is folic acid supplements. Folic acid supplementation is prescribed to avoid neural tube defects in newborns. According to this paper,

Given that the closure of the neural tube is completed by 28 days post conception, there is a narrow window of opportunity from the time the woman finds out she has conceived and the end of the prevention window.

Folate is the natural form (Vitamin B9) whereas Folic acid is the synthetic form. If you aren't focusing much on your diet, then folic acid supplementation is absolutely essential. Also important to note that women on oral contraceptives may need higher doses of folic acid.

Along with the supplements, it is important to include folate-rich foods in your diet, even before conception. According to this source, the recommended daily dietary allowance for Folate is 600 mcg (microgm) per day.

I looked through the nutrition information provided in "Indian Food Composition Tables" (IFCT 2017) and here's the list of foods rich in Folates.

Total Folates (microgm per 100 gm)
Tender maize63
Kodo millet (varagu)39
Little millet (saamai)36

Moth bean349
Field bean (mochai)290
Cowpea white249
Bengal gram whole233
Cowpea brown231
Bengal gram dal182
Green gram whole145
Black gram whole134
Green gram dal92
Black gram dal89

Green leafy vegetables
Arbi leaves159
Agathi leaves120
Curry leaves117
Mustard leaves110
Mint leaves106
Amaranth leaves, red82
Fenugreek leaves75
Amaranth leaves, green70
Coriander leaves51

Capsicum yellow66
Capsicum red63
Chayote squash (chowchow)63
French beans62
Jackfruit seed55
Peas fresh55
Capsicum green52
Plantain flower49

Bael fruit (wood apple)55

Nuts, seeds and spices
Niger seeds (uchellu/gurellu)140
Gingelly seeds (till seeds)110
Mustard seeds95
Linseed (flaxseed)86
Sunflower seeds82
Poppy seeds79
Long pepper (Thippili)66
Ajwain (omum)52
Fenugreek seeds51

  1. As you can see, there are plenty of plant-based sources that are rich in folates. Eating a balanced, wholesome meal can help us meet the requirement of folates.
  2. Compared to rice and wheat, millets are a better source of folates. Not high enough though.
  3. Pulses and lentils that we use in our day-to-day cooking contain abundant folates. Including a wide variety of pulses in our daily diet will not only help us meet our folates requirement but also provide adequate protein.
  4. Green leafy vegetables are a good source of folates. Spinach, curry leaves, coriander leaves and mint leaves should become part of our daily diet. Prepping the greens might sound time consuming, but worth the time and effort.
  5. Most of the veggies that we commonly consume (capsicum, beetroot, drumstick, ladiesfinger etc) are good sources of folate. 
  6. Condiments and spices commonly used in Indian cooking are rich in folates. Gingelly seeds (till seeds) seem to top the chart in almost every single nutrient - calcium, iron and folates. No wonder, our ancestors called till oil as "nalla ennai" (good oil). There is a common belief that sesame seeds are not to be consumed during pregnancy as it generates heat in the body and might lead to miscarriage. I'm not sure about the truth behind this belief. Given that we use very little quantity of sesame seeds in most of our dishes (podis, chutneys etc), I guess it shouldn't be a problem. If you are concerned, do check with your family elder / gynec.
I'd highly recommend that you plan out your meals based on the above list to ensure you are able to hit the 400-600 microgm per day mark. You can then discuss with your gynec and decide on the dosage of folic acid supplements if still needed. 

As always, my belief is that it is best to get the required nutrients from natural sources than synthetic supplements.

Oct 10, 2019

Patriarchy's influence in food choices

A few days back, I heard this statement from a family member - "cucumber vaangaradhu illa, avarakku pidikaadhu. pagarkkai, kovakkai sugar ku nalladhunu solraa, aana avarakku indha kai ellam pidikkaadhu. adhanala vaangaradhilla" ("I don't buy cucumber because he(husband) doesn't like it. I have heard that bittergourd, ivygourd are good for controlling sugar but since he doesn't like it, I don't buy it").

Both of them have diabetes and high blood pressure, but she does not/cannot make any lifestyle changes JUST BECAUSE her husband is not onboard. 

Women play such a significant role in a family. When we lead by example, family members follow. In some families, it might take time but sooner or later, they will be ready to embrace change. There is no need to nag or shout from the top of our lungs. Our actions would speak for themselves, our habits would influence/inspire others in our family, especially the husband and children. Elders in the family may or may not be willing to change as they have been stuck with old habits for long.

My husband K used to eat quite a bit of junk (chocolates, tetrapack juices, icecreams, aerated drinks etc). But ever since I stopped eating junk foods, he has come onboard with me and has made remarkable progress with his food habits in the past 3 years. He used to hate salads but now he doesn't mind eating a small bowl. His overall portion sizes have reduced. He has started eating all vegetables without a fuss. Yes, there are a few veggies he is not too fond of - bottlegourd and cabbage being on top of the list. Yet, I make them once in 2 weeks and he eats without throwing a tantrum :-) He loves paneer whereas my daughter and I are not too fond of it. So I cook a dish with paneer once a week and whenever we go out to a restaurant, we always order a paneer dish.

I understand it is time consuming to cook different dishes for a small family. But why should the man's preferences dictate the family menu ALL THE TIME? Why can't the man compromise on a few meals when wife's favorite dishes or healthy-dishes-for-the-whole-family are prepared? 

What are the repercussions when the family menu is decided based ONLY on the man's preferences?
  1. If the man hates certain veggies, they will never be cooked. The family members will never get the nutrients from those veggies.
  2. This habit affects the kinds of foods that children in the family are exposed to. If the man(father) hates bittergourd, the children in the family would have never tasted it, while growing up. Their taste preferences would become molded, just like that of their father.
  3. The woman totally loses touch with the taste of the foods she used to like, just because her husband doesn't like the same.
I'm not implying that this trend is happening across all Indian families. I'm sure there are men who have a deep interest in food, cooking and nutrition. But they are far and few exceptions as of today. I sincerely hope that we see a positive shift in our next generation, where everyone in the family understands food - where it comes from, how it is being prepared, how to plan wholesome meals, which nutrients are present in which foods etc.

Do share in the comments below if this article resonates with your family. How do you manage the influence of patriarchy in food choices?

Oct 5, 2019

10 more habits to keep PCOD under control

I had shared a personal "10 year health transformation" journey post on Instagram yesterday, primarily focusing on how I'm managing PCOD. I had asked women facing PCOD issues to reach out to me if they have any questions or would like to share their concerns. What I didn't expect was the number of messages I would end up receiving. Within a span of 12 hours, I received around 35 DMs from women in their 20s and 30s. PCOS/PCOD is affecting many women in India and the number keeps growing at an alarming rate.

I had written this article "10 habits to keep PCOD under control" in Jan 2016. Since it is close to 4 years now, I wanted to write a follow up post, addressing a few more habits that have helped me in keeping PCOD in check.

DisclaimerI'm neither a gynecologist nor a dietitian. This is purely based on my experience. Do consult your doctor if you are making any major changes.

1.Adopt the right mindset
We generally tend to ignore irregular periods and other related symptoms UNTIL the time we are getting married or ready to start a family. I made the same mistake too. PCOD affects our health in many ways - weight gain, hair fall, hair growth on face (hirsutism), acne, extreme mood swings and much more. If left unattended, it leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders. So it is imperative we address PCOD at a young age (in your late teens or early 20s). Most gynecs wouldn't recommend any lifestyle changes unless you are trying to conceive (TTC). They might prescribe hormone tablets/contraceptive pills to regulate periods but these tend to have a lot of side effects. Let's adopt the right mindset - we are going to address PCOD for the sake of our own good health, not just for getting a baby. And yes, all these habits are equally important after delivering a baby as well.

2.Address stress inducing situations/people
Women of today carry so much of mental load and pressure on ourselves. Studies, work pressure, commute, household responsibilities, career goals and what not. Responsibilities are only piling up as we grow older. On top of that, if we are married and have difficulty in conceiving, the society (including close family members and relatives) makes a mockery out of our situation instead of offering genuine help. Be conscious of situations and people who stress you out. Stay away from them as much as possible. Identify ways that help you reduce stress - cooking, cleaning, reading, listening to music, meditation, going for long walks, spending time amidst nature, gardening - whatever works for you. And please let's not use junk foods/icecreams/chocolates/tea/coffee as ways to combat stress. Speaking from experience, these might give only a temporary relief to take our mind out of stressful situation but comes loaded with side effects.

3.Eat only when hungry
In my earlier post on PCOD, I had mentioned "Never skip breakfast" but I have learned from experience in the past couple of years that it is okay to skip or delay breakfast until we feel hungry. Wrote a detailed post on the same topic. Do check it out if you haven't seen it yet. Also, avoid mindless grazing - processing something in your mind and munching on something, watching TV and eating snacks. Plan for 2-3 wholesome meals. If feeling hungry mid-morning / evening, have a small handful of nuts or fruits.

4.Be mindful of portion size
If your capacity is to eat 4 idlis/3 chapathis, don't load your plate with this fixed quantity by default every time. Take it slow - serve yourself 2 idlis with a bowl of sambhar/chutney. Finish your plate fully and if you are still hungry, take one piece at a time. For rice, serve a small ladle of rice, adequate portion of veggies, dal/sambhar, salad etc. Finish the plate fully and then decide if you need more rice. That way, your appetite is filled by a wholesome meal and you don't load up on rice/rotis.

5.Include bitter and astringent tasting foods more regularly
This is something I have been doing consciously in the past few years. In Tamil, these two tastes are called kasappu and thuvarppu respectively. Our previous generation completely ignored these two tastes and focused more on sweet, sour, spicy and salty foods. The bitter and astringent tasting foods are so beneficial not only for PCOD but also for managing diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol etc.
Bitter tasting foods - bittergourd, methi seeds, curry leaves, turkey berries (sundakkai), dry wonder berries (manathakkali), dry neem flowers
Astringent tasting foods - banana flower, banana stem, pomegranate, Indian gooseberry (amla/nellikkai), brinjal, dry figs
Plan your meals in such a way that foods rich in these two tastes feature more regularly.

6.Limit dairy intake
The commercial dairy products we get these days are loaded with growth hormones, antibiotics and other unwanted stuff. Though I haven't stopped completely, my dairy intake has reduced considerably. My body isn't able to digest heavy dairy products like paneer, cheese etc. Except for my tea and a small bowl of curd, I don't consume milk or any other dairy products. You could try limiting or stopping dairy for a week and you will notice the difference.

7.Limit wheat intake if you are a South Indian
This is another change I have made in the past few years and I can vouch for its positive outcomes. Similar to dairy, you could try stopping wheat for a week and you'll notice the amazing difference - less bloating, no acidity, light stomach. And the idea that wheat is better than rice (promoted by packaged atta makers, sometimes recommended by doctors/diabetic centres) is totally incorrect. Check out my earlier post for more details.

8.Finish dinner early
For women with PCOD, the most common problem is weight gain around belly. One of the ways to manage this problem is to ensure that you finish dinner by 7:30PM and not eat anything post dinner. It gives your body ample time to digest before you go to sleep. Undigested food in the stomach leads to disturbed sleep. Lack of good quality sleep disrupts your hormones, leading to more complications.

9.Be active throughout the day
Most of us have become conscious of the fact that exercise is important. But the mistake we do (including yours truly) is that we finish one hour of exercise in the morning and we don't move much the rest of the day. Taking stairs, walking to buy veggies/groceries (instead of online orders), participating in activities that involve physical work (gardening, cleaning, cooking) etc are some of the ways by which we can stay active. I have observed that on days when I'm physically active throughout, I sleep better, whereas my sleep gets disturbed on days when I'm sedentary.

10.Say no to plastic
Plastic (irrespective of BPA free, food grade or any other fancy terms) is not suited for food consumption. It leeches harmful chemicals that disrupts our hormones. Earlier, I used to drink water from plastic bottles, use melamine plates, reheat food in microwave oven using plastic bowls etc. I have put a complete stop to all that. Water in steel bottle, ceramic/steel plates for serving food, ceramic plate/bowl for occasional reheating in MW oven. Stopped teflon coated nonstick pans. Switched to iron kadai/tawa.

Last but not the least, a question that I'm sure I would be asked - What about Keto? 
Personally, I don't believe in restrictive diets. I don't go overboard on "carbs". I eat millets/handpounded rice/red rice etc but am mindful of my portion size. Balanced, wholesome, homecooked meals work for me. Choose what works for you. If you don't miss "carbs", then eat homecooked meals with more veggies and healthy fats. Avoid packaged keto junk, it is becoming a big thing these days. Read the ingredients and understand what you are putting in your body.

Hope these pointers are helpful in managing PCOD. Do write in the comments below if you have any further questions.

Sep 24, 2019

Experience of a live AR Rahman concert

I had checked off one of the items from my bucket list in Aug. Such an important thing, yet it has taken me nearly 2 months to record my experience here on my blog. Better late than never!!

Long time readers of my blog might know how madly I'm in love with AR Rahman's music. His music came into my ears on the most tragic day of my life. Till date, I'm not able to listen to Kaadhal Rojave without a tear lingering in the corner of my eyes. Apart from that one sad emotion, his music has brought in so much happiness and memories to cherish, right from childhood. Every album of his has a memory, a feeling that takes you back to the simpler times of 90s. When I started earning (back in 2002), one of my dreams was to experience a live ARR concert. Now seriously I don't know why it took me 17 years to make my dream come true.

I accidentally stumbled upon the details of his concert to be held in Chennai on Aug 10th. Though my daughter loves music, she doesn't like loud sounds or crowded places. I knew if I decided to go as a family, it would inconvenience her and I wouldn't be able to enjoy the concert as well. So on a whim, I just booked a single ticket for myself one fine afternoon. Husband suggested that I should check with some of my friends in Chennai who might be interested to join. I reached out to a few friends but no one was free to join (or as crazy a Rahmaniac like me!). The day dawned, we left from Bangalore early morning, reached Chennai around noon and headed straight to the venue to pick up my ticket. What a happy feeling it was! After having lunch at home, I relaxed for a bit and prepared my daughter that mommy would be gone for a few hours. I took an Uber, reached the venue by 5:30PM and took a proper seat with a good view in the Silver category. I'm not sure if I was the ONLY girl who wore FullyFilmy's Rahmaniac (since 1992) t-shirt ;-) There were many guys wearing the same t-shirts.

The next 90 minutes was a patient wait, admiring the setting sun and counting the number of airplanes flying above. The concert began with ThalaivARR's rocking entry. I let go of any inhibitions, screamed and hooted along with the crowd. Those 3 hours proved to be one of my most memorable fun evenings of my life. There was hardly any breathing space for the fans to recover 😉 The songs came one after another, a perfect mix of old and new. I didn't want to be distracted with my phone by recording the performances. So I planned to record the first 10-15 seconds of each song, keep the phone in my bag and sing along with the crowd.

Singappenne in ARR's voice was so uplifting and energizing. I got so excited when he sang Dil Se Re. It's one of my favorite songs in ARR's voice. Jonita Gandhi is clearly a multitalented performer - singing Jiya Jale and Kannaalane, dancing with such grace. The energy of Madhuraikku pogadhadi, Veerapaandi Kottayile and Top Tucker is so infectious that the crowd automatically danced and swayed. Then entered one of my favorite singers, Sid Sriram. Endhira logathu sundariye, Adiye and ofcourse, Thalli pogadhey - just amazing to hear him live.

The highlight of the evening was ARR's performance towards the end, singing Musthafa. I just can't put the feeling into words, so exhilarating! Instead of candles, it was our mobile phone torches that replicated the feel. Oh wow! I could feel the goosebumps even now as I type this out.

I didn't move an inch away from my chair in those 3 hours to buy food or water (glad I didn't contribute to the pile of disposable plastic waste). Music kept my soul happy and content. This day - I'll never forget in my life!

After returning home, my daughter was hooked onto those 15 second videos of the songs I had recorded. She has now added many of the songs to her playlist, with Kalla Kalavaani being her top favorite. Another Rahmaniac in the making! :-)

Sep 23, 2019

Book Review: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

2019 - the year where we have seen the release of two books that primarily talk about minimizing distractions. The ability to focus on work or pay attention to relationships without getting distracted is becoming such a challenge these days and I agree with these lines by Nir Eyal.

In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves “indistractable.”

Early this year, Cal Newport's digital minimalism was launched and I loved it so much. Detailed review here.

A few years back, when I read Nir Eyal's Hooked, I learned about many key insights into human behavior that are being used as inputs into building habit forming products. If "Hooked" is a must-read for developers, designers and product managers building such products, "Indistractable" is for consumers using those products.

Through a 4-part framework, the author takes us on a journey to become indistractable. The following passage sums up this framework.

Imagine a line that represents the value of everything you do throughout your day. To the right, the actions are positive; to the left, they are negative. On the right side of the continuum is traction - actions that draw us toward what we want in life. On the left side is distraction, the opposite of traction. Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life we envision. All behaviors, whether they tend toward traction or distraction, are prompted by triggers, internal or external.

The biggest takeaway for me while reading this book was about how social media, smart phones, video games etc are the proximate causes of our distractions. The author shares several examples on how each new invention (be it print, newspaper, television, telephone etc) when it was launched was blamed for its distracting abilities. The bottom line is that we need to figure out the root cause of our addictions/distracted behaviors and implement strategies to manage potential distraction-causing triggers.

I loved the chapter on scheduling time for important relationships. We often tend to neglect (or even take for granted) the relationships where we need to invest our time and energy, without being distracted.

On dealing with external triggers,

"Is this trigger serving me or am I serving it?"

is such an important question to ask ourselves.

Many of the examples and case studies shared are easy to relate to, especially the author's role as a parent, his struggles to deal with distractions and get writing done. The solutions suggested are also quite simple and easy to implement for most of us. Apart from dealing with distractions on a personal level, the author also talks about workplace distractions - meetings, emails, Slack, content overload, social media and most importantly, managing expectations to be "online" during non-working hours. 

The chapter on raising indistractable children talks about the psychological needs. Overuse of technology is ONLY a symptom; we need to address the root cause. When kids' psychological needs are unmet, they go looking for virtual alternatives. Parents need to enable offline environments where children get to experience autonomy, competence and relatedness. As parents, we should model how to be indistractable ourselves.

My favorite passages from the book:
    Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality. How we deal with uncomfortable internal triggers determines whether we pursue healthful acts of traction or self-defeating distractions.

Evolution favored dissatisfaction over contentment. Our tendencies toward boredom, negativity bias, rumination, and hedonic adaptation conspire to make sure we’re never satisfied for long.

Our technology gives us a way of being physically present but mentally absent; the uncomfortable truth is that we like to have our phones, tablets, and laptops in meetings not for the sake of productivity but for psychological escape. Meetings can be unbearably tense, socially awkward, and exceedingly boring—devices provide a way to manage our uncomfortable internal triggers.
 This tweet by BJ Fogg sets the tone for the future.

 "....we will start to realize that being chained to your mobile phone is a low status behavior, similar to smoking".

Nir Eyal's Indistractable provides us with actionable takeaways to manage our distractions and address the triggers that lead to distracting behaviors. An informative and relevant read for all.

P.S. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher. The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

Sep 10, 2019

Misleading claim on replacing rice with chapati

I came across this ad of Annapurna Atta with the claim "Replace rice with chapati and lose upto 2 kgs in 3 months." I know many South Indians who have switched to wheat and diligently eat chapathis every night, hoping it would help in weight loss and deal with other lifestyle disorders. Some even have chapathis for breakfast too. You step into a South Indian restaurant in Chennai, hoping to relish a proper banana leaf meal. What's the first thing they serve? 2 chapathis / 3 pooris and only after that, they serve rice. I firmly ask, "chapathis vendaam. rice podunga". Not that I don't like chapathis but I don't see the need for it in a typical Tamil lunch menu.

This idea "wheat is better than rice" is a false claim, being propagated by packaged atta brands.

Let's come to this brand. In fine print, they try to justify their claim. 

Many factors affect weight management and individual weight loss results will vary. To be consumed as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle. Based on analytical studies, Annapurna atta has 3 times more dietary fibre than commonly consumed variety of rice (Sona Masuri and Ponni).
Replacing 1 bowl of rice (300 g of cooked rice / 100g of uncooked rice) with 3 chapatis (made from 75g wheat flour, without oil) in 2 meals per day for a duration of 3 months causes a calorie deficit (179kCal per day) enough to obtain upto 2 kg of weight loss.

 Let's dissect this paragraph

- Wholewheat flour has more fibre than white polished rice, fair enough BUT nobody eats ONLY a bowl of white rice OR ONLY chapathis. The vegetables/dals increase the total fibre of a meal and so that needs to be taken into account.
- The brand recommends replacing 100g of uncooked white rice with 75g of wheat flour. I checked the quantity that we normally consume in a meal. Yes, when I make chapatis, I use around 75g of wholewheat flour per person BUT when I make rice, it is certainly not 100g of rice per person per meal. I use around 60-70g. Please do check how much quantity of white rice do you eat in a meal. The 100g mentioned in this ad seems too steep.
- The whole comparison relies on calorie deficit. Just replacing white rice with wheat isn't enough, one has to maintain an overall calorie deficit of 179kCal per day (for 3 months) to achieve the 2 kg weight loss.

There are plenty of indigenous rice varieties that are high in fibre, various vitamins and minerals. The glycemic index of such rice varieties is lower as compared to white rice. Given the high amounts of fibre and the fact they are unpolished/semi-polished, they give satiety, we don't end up eating more quantity of rice. My suggestion would be to not fall for such "wheat is better than rice" claims OR that wheat helps in weight loss. If that was the case, we wouldn't be seeing such high obesity rates in Punjab.

Aug 30, 2019

The power of taking charge

"Take charge", "Take responsibility", "Be self disciplined" - these phrases have so much power that they make a tremendous difference in our lives, especially when it comes to our health.

Whenever my Yoga teacher goes for a vacation, I usually end up relaxing and skipping my practice. I would wake up late and do my household work without any hurry. Once the classes resume, I would realize how my stamina levels have dropped drastically. The first 3-4 days after a break would be so tough and challenging. This used to be the routine in the past 4 years.

When we got a break in Jul, I decided I would practice Yoga by myself at home. Though I did practice a bit, it wasn't intense and I wasn't pushing myself. Then a friend and I decided that we would practice together in the same place and at the same time as our Yoga class. We have been practicing regularly for the past 3 weeks and also been pushing ourselves (though not as much as our Yoga teacher). This experience has brought in a sense of happiness and accomplishment. 

I reflected on the article I had written earlier on willpower. The feeling of accomplishment comes from the fact that my thoughts (I want to stay fit) and my actions (going for practice when my teacher is not around) are in sync. 

Many people who follow my blog articles regularly have written to me asking, "What you are saying about junk foods is all very true but I'm not able to give up. I feel addicted to them and find comfort in them whenever I feel upset/sad/angry. What should I do?"

It is the conversation we have with ourselves that we need to change. If we tell ourselves, "I'm addicted. I can't give up on junk food", we adopt a victim mindset. We give more power to the junk foods. Instead, if we tell ourselves, "Junk foods are designed to be addictive. I take responsibility of my health and I don't want to eat them", we start adopting an empowered mindset. We are in charge and we decide whether we should eat junk foods or not. You notice the difference here?

Similarly, we have so many conversations in our day-to-day lives where we adopt a victim mindset and sulk in self-pity mode. I had written a detailed article on the same topic. Do check it out if you haven't.

If we observe the thoughts that run through minds, we can notice such patterns - "I'm so tired today, let me skip my workouts", "I'm emotionally upset, I need that piece of chocolate to feel better", "I had a tough week, let me binge-watch this series tonight" etc. The problem with these patterns is that the actions we take tend to have repercussions, mostly laden with guilt. The more we succumb to these thoughts, the more we feel bad about ourselves. 

Let's ditch the victim mindset and adopt an empowered mindset. It is a simple switch in our thought process, that's it. 

James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) shared a tweet yesterday that I found quite relevant in this context.

Let's start telling ourselves - "I take charge of my health", "I'm solely responsible for my health", "I'm a self-disciplined person and I motivate myself to get fit" on a daily basis. Trust me, you'll see the magic unfold in your lives.

Aug 20, 2019

How I do meal planning

A few days back, I posted a question on my Instagram Stories - 
"What do you find most challenging about home cooking on a daily basis?"

Nearly 90% of the responses were all related to this one important task - "Deciding what to cook". For years, I have faced this challenge. Every morning, I would open my fridge and wonder what to cook. I slowly shifted to planning at least the next day's breakfast and lunch before going to bed that night. That solved the problem for most part but then my daughter's school timing changed last year, due to which her after-school snacks has become an important meal to plan ahead. She comes home quite hungry and I need to make sure that I have prepared something ready for her.
Starting Jan this year, I was diligently planning a weekly menu every Sunday evening using pen and paper. This became such a game changer as it saved a lot of time from thinking about the dreaded question - "What to cook?". Then summer vacations came and I stopped writing down the meal plan. Once school reopened, I didn't write down a meal plan every week but I came up with a generic meal plan template. Weekday meals are mostly on autopilot and so this template has been quite helpful for me. 

  1. I usually grind idli batter on Monday nights. So my Tue breakfast is usually idli. And I usually pair it with a sambhar, which we would have it for lunch as well.
  2. I prefer to soak channa/rajma or other lentils over the weekend. So my Monday lunch is usually channa masala with phulkas / channa pulao.
  3. After-school snack menu is mostly decided by D. She is very strict about her pasta on Mondays and pancakes on Tuesdays 😉 
  4. I prefer to have paneer once a week and chapathis/phulkas twice a week. So that is taken care of in this template
  5. Usually, I either bake a cake or deep fry bajjis on Friday evenings. So we end up having a light soup for dinner on Fri nights.
  6. Weekend breakfast and lunch menus are usually like this - there will be pooris for breakfast and one medicinal lunch. I might swap the menus for Sat and Sun, depending on whether we are heading out for some errands.
  7. If I want to try a new dish, I usually try out during the weekends. ONLY tried and tested recipes during weekdays.
  8. I incorporate fruits and simple veg salads on a daily basis. So I don't write them down specifically.

I usually stick to this template 80-90% of the time and it is quite helpful for me to eat healthy and not slog in the kitchen for a long time. We eat out 1-2 times a week, mostly during weekends.

Please note that this is based on what my family likes to eat. I'm sharing these ideas so you can customize it based on how you seem fit according to your schedule, food preferences etc. There is enough scope for variety within this template. Hope you find this useful.

Aug 19, 2019

V-Nourish Health Drink Review

Regular readers of my blog would have guessed my top two favorite categories of packaged foods - Breakfast cereals and "health" drinks. I have written about so many brands that belong to these two categories. New brands are getting launched almost every month and it is challenging to stay informed of their marketing strategies. 

Sometime in June, I came across this new brand named "V-Nourish" launched by Veeba foods and promoted by none other than Shahrukh Khan. I'm a huge fan of his 90s movies, let me declare that upfront. 

What piqued my interest was that the brand was encouraging consumers to read nutrition labels. This was certainly the first brand to have ever used this strategy, in all my years of observing Indian advertisements (do correct me if I'm wrong).

The tagline being used is "Real ingredients, wholesome nutrition". The brand also stresses on these features - "No artificial flavors, no preservatives, no synthetic colors".

Needless to say, I was super curious to read the ingredients list. I searched for this pack in nearby supermarkets and medical stores but I couldn't find it. I searched for it on Amazon but no details on the ingredients list were available. I then posted on Instagram Stories asking for someone to take a picture of the nutrition label and share it with me. A follower took a pic and DMed me. After seeing the nutrition facts table, I wasn't fully sure if what I'm seeing is true. I followed up with v-nourish on Instagram and finally got hold of the nutrition labels. They have shared it under Parents Support in their website.

The section on "Understanding nutrition labels" gives useful information on how to read and interpret labels. Kudos to the brand for taking this effort. 

Let's look at the ingredients list of V-Nourish - Strawberry flavor.

Sugar, Maltodextrin
Milk Solids (Milk Protein Concentrate - 15%),
Freeze dried strawberries (7%),
Prebiotic (Inulin),
Minerals, Starch, Beet juice powder,
Dehydrated aloe vera extract,
Dehydrated ashwagandha extract,
Vitamins, Choline,
Probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus)

Contains Added flavors (Nature identical flavoring substances)

When I saw the pic shared by the Instagram follower, I was shocked to see the amount of sugar. "Am I seeing it right?", I wondered. The first ingredient listed is SUGAR. This pack contains a whopping 51.26 gm of sugar per 100 gm. More than 50% of the pack is SUGAR. The pack states "no extra sugar needs to be added to make this beverage". Each serving (20 gm) contains 10.25 gm or 2.5 tsp of sugar. The recommended usage is 2 serves daily, which means the child would end up consuming 5 tsp of sugar every day. 

What's the need for such high sugar in a nutritional supplement drink? Are we changing our kids' tastebuds to expect sugar whenever we want to feed them nutritious foods? Compared to other health drinks in the market, the sugar level in v-nourish is way too high. Why are the brands deciding how much sugar to add? Why not leave the decision to parents? Let us decide whether to add 1 tsp or 2 tsp of sugar. 

The second ingredient is Maltodextrin, a cheap white powder made from corn and primarily used as a carrier/bulking agent. It doesn't provide any nutrition but it spikes up insulin levels. High Sugar+Maltodextrin on a daily basis => Perfect recipe for early onset of Type 2 diabetes.

As the brand claims, they haven't added artificial strawberry flavor but have used dried strawberries, which is good.
Aloe vera and ashwagandha extract used is so minuscule - 100 gms of this pack contain only 0.75 gm of aloe vera and 0.20 gm of ashwagandha. 

The pack contains 14.7 gm of protein per 100 gm and the source is milk solids. Personally, I don't consider commercial diary to be of any nutritional value. I would rather let my body absorb protein from real, natural, plant-based, home-cooked foods. The same belief holds true for synthetic vitamins and minerals too.

Children need real foods - cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Not sugar-loaded drinks with a laundry list of vitamins and minerals extracted from a factory.

"Read the label to make a good choice", says the brand. Yes, I have read your label and I have made the choice never to buy this pack. I don't want to pay a premium for sugar.

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